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Video Poker Strategy

Video poker is one of the most popular casino games for one solid reason: the game is beatable. This isn't really true for any other game in the casino, regardless of the strategy you employ. Video poker has a million varieties though, and finding the right combination of game type, payout percentage, and proper strategy can be a challenge. Since its introduction in the early 1980's, Video Poker has grown into one of the casino's most popular games. Unlike regular Poker, which is played against other players at a poker table, Video Poker is played individually on a machine that uses video technology to create a Poker hand. Based on classic Five Card Stud, Video Poker challenges players to build the best possible five-card poker hand. The player is dealt five cards and has the option of discarding any or all of them. New cards are dealt to replace the discards. Payoffs are based on a scale, paying players for hands as low as a pair of tens or Jacks all the way up to a Royal Flush. Like slot machines, Video Poker machines are available in many denominations, with 25 cent and $1 machines being the most popular. Many casinos also offer progressive payoffs or bonuses for Royal Flushes or other special hands. Video Poker provides variety too, with versions ranging from Jacks Or Better to Deuces Wild and Jokers Wild.

There are three things you need to do in order to strip away the mystery of an online video poker machine to understand its value. These should be included in your video poker strategy.
  1. You must be able to read the pay tables and know which ones have the highest payback
  2. You must know the best video poker strategy for the machines you choose to play
  3. You must know the expected volatility of a particular machine - or what effect it will have on your bankroll

Based purely on the mechanics, playing online video poker is simplicity itself. However, playing it well entails a bit more effort and that's where your strategy comes into play. Online video poker is one game where the house advantage is definitely affected by how much knowledge the player has. The two main skills involved (proper machine selection and knowing the proper strategy for the video poker machine you're playing) get complicated because online video poker comes in a never-ending variety of games. Each game requires a strategy suited just for it to truly be effective.

How do you navigate this sea of machines? First, lets look at them in the broadest terms: there are non-wild card games such as Jacks or Better and Double Bonus. Then there are wild card games such as Deuces Wild or Joker Wild. Within these two general types, there are many varieties. Payout schedule return rates may vary from below 90% to above 100% (see table below). When a payout schedule can return over %100, the game is beatable, meaning if you play it perfectly you will walk away a winner in the long run. Every other game in the casino is stacked against you in the long run, even if you play with the best possible strategy.

The best place to begin honing your video poker strategy is with the machine that started the whole phenomenon: the Jacks or Better game. The Jacks or Better pays off for a pair of jacks or higher, which is particularly good for beginners because of its easily understandable goal. Better yet, the best version of Jacks or Better has a 99.5% payback percentage when played with expert strategy. This means it has only a 0.5% house advantage. In other words, in the long run, you expect to lose only 50 cents of every $100 you play. This is one of the best bets in the casino. Consider Jacks or Better as the hershey bar of the video poker candy store: classic, reliable, straightforward, and simply satisfying. You may want to move to more new and exotic variations, but Jacks or Better must always be the most accessible and understandable part of your strategy.

While there are many factors to consider in developing your online strategy, they are far too numerous to detail here. We will leave you though with an important factor, and possibly the most important thing to look at when developing your strategy - the pay table. The pay table strips away the game's mystery; it's basically a window into knowing whether the game is worth your money. An example of a pay table can be seen below, and unlike slot machines, the pay table isn't just there for us to "oohhh and aaah" over all the pretty payoffs - it can reveal how much a game pays back if played perfectly.

Hand Frequency % Probability Payout Return
Royal Flush 1 in 40,390.55 0.002% 800* 1.98%
Straight Flush 1 in 9,148.37 0.011% 50 0.55%
Four of a kind 1 in 423.27 0.236% 25 5.91%
Full house 1 in 86.86 1.151% 9 10.36%
Flush 1 in 90.79 1.101% 6 6.61%
Straight 1 in 89.05 1.123% 4 4.49%
Three of a kind 1 in 13.43 7.445% 3 22.33%
Two pair 1 in 7.74 12.928% 2 25.86%
Jacks or better 1 in 4.66 21.459% 1 21.46%
Nothing 1 in 1.83 54.543% 0 0.00%
*Royal flush payout is based on max coins (4,000 coins for 5 coins played)
Total return: 99.54%


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